Category TLC

Indigenous People – University Relations: Are Partnerships a Path to Decolonization?

The 2016 Bishop’s Convocation Ceremonies marked what seemed to some to be a turning point for the university. The Chancellor began his remarks at each of the three ceremonies with an acknowledgement that honoured the traditional Abenaki territory on which Bishop’s is located. For those of us who have been questioning our individual and collective relationships with First Nations, Inuit and Metis [FNIM] people, hearing the words was an affirmation. It meant that formal discussions were taking place at the university around Bishop’s role in a post-Truth and Reconciliation Commission [TRC] Canada. Equally, it suggested that the voices of advocates, most notably the Bishop’s students of the Indigenous Cultural Alliance, had been heard – even if the use of the territorial protocol was not necessarily one of their primary concerns. For those who attended the final of the three convocation ceremonies, another gesture of conciliation was evident in the conferring of the Honorary Doctorate in Civil Law to Abel Bosum, Cree negotiator and former Chief of the Ouje-Bougamou Cree. His testimony of being removed to residential school at the tender age of five brought the significance of the work of the TRC directly to the Bishop’s community. Drawing on the challenges he has faced and all that he accomplished, Bosum underlined to the graduates that they are equipped to achieve “many great things, armed with choices, a purpose, [their] passion and an open mind.”

The convocation-related events have served as a touchstone for those of us wondering how Bishop’s will contribute in the future to the growing movement across Canada to act on the TRC calls.  Some institutions of higher education are responding to the 13 principles on Indigenous education released by Universities Canada in late June 2015. Indigenous scholars and University leaders developed the principles, which represent a commitment on behalf of the 97 universities in Canada to acknowledge the work of the TRC. Like the Accord on Indigenous Education (2010), signed by all Canadian Deans of Education, the 13 principles have several key goals: supporting Indigenous students, fostering collaboration and intercultural engagement, and “providing greater exposure and knowledge for non-Indigenous students on the realities, histories, cultures and beliefs of Indigenous people in Canada” (UC, 2015). The principles include “soft” and “radical” reforms (Andreotti et al., 2015), with soft reforms being those aimed at better support for Indigenous student success, and radical reforms being directed at the entire university community and school culture.

The recent event we (Avril Aitken, Mary Ellen Donnan and Jean Manore) organized – Indigenous People – University Relations: Are Partnerships a Path to Decolonization? – was intended to engage members of the Bishop’s community in a reflection on the place of partnerships as a means to work toward the reforms illustrated by the TRC Calls to Action. Supported by the Gordon Educational Leadership Fund and the Speakers Fund, the event began in Bishop Williams Hall, where award winning author and scholar, Celia Haig Brown, Associate Vice President of Research of York University, spoke to a full house of students and faculty members. Her talk, Moving to Reconcile: The Role of Non-Indigenous People, drew on years of collaborative research and community-based work with First Nations, as well as her expertise in decolonizing research and land-based pedagogy. She proposed an iterative and dynamic process, inspired by Kirkness and Barnhardt’s (1991) seminal writing about the four R’s: Respect, Relevance, Reciprocity and Responsibility.

Dr. BosumThe afternoon saw the return to campus of Dr. Bosum, pictured (left) with students, Nikki Baribeau and Alicia Moore-Iseroff.  He participated in the second event –  a panel entitled Partnership in the Land: Applications for Teaching and Research. Using the example of the Eeyoch (Cree) in forming Nation-to-Nation relationships with Quebec and Canada, following dispossession in the territory, Eeyou Istchee, he made the case that Bishop’s might learn about partnership building from the Eeyoch. Following this, Celia Haig Brown presented some of the research-driven writing that will be integrated into her SSHRC-funded film project. It involves collaboration with the Naskapi Nation of Kawawachikamach, who are facing significant social change as they move forward with partnerships around resource extraction.

The third panelist, Lisa Taylor, of the School of Education, shared her classroom-based research and pedagogy related to notions of territory, the Quebec and Canadian history curriculum, and student counter-memorials for the sesquicentennial. Current B.Ed. candidates, Jason Earl, B.A. ’16 and Emily Williams B.A. ’16, (right) presented an example. Kiersten Montgomery, B.A. ’16 (far right) was unable to attend.

During the final event of the day, Moving Toward Anti-Colonial Positions in Partnership, Mary Ellen Donnan of the Department of Sociology, presented some of the findings of our recent research into Bishop’s interest and preparedness for decolonization and an agenda of change. Through a careful movement between the findings and the points raised by the panelists, audience members were called on to consider how Bishop’s might more forward. One of the final points was made by Dr. Bosum, who underlined the significance of building trust and beginning with friendship, as the way for relationships to move forward into partnerships.

The question of how we might sustain a partnership with a First Nation is the concern that led to our above-mentioned research. Significantly, the findings show that there is notable support among members of the Bishop’s community for fostering such a partnership.  In light of this, and given an existing relationship between the School of Education and the Naskapi Nation of Kawawachikamach, discussion are underway with some of their representatives regarding post-secondary educational opportunities. We also hope – picking up on points made by Dr. Bosum – that we might begin similar discussions with the Eeyoch of Eeyou Istchee.  Beyond that, we have plans for further dissemination of the research done at Bishop’s related to possible responses to the 13 Principles.

In speaking on March 20th, 2017, at an event entitled – Truth and Reconciliation: Where are we now? – Senator Sinclair, Chair of the TRC, made the point, “It’s up to society to step up and take the actions that are needed.” The question, Where are we now? is one that we might ask ourselves at Bishop’s. Notably, at the June 2015 Town Hall, which took place on the heels of the release of the Executive Summary of the TRC report, Principal Michael Goldbloom was asked how the university might respond to the TRC Calls to Action. Turning to the assembled people, he said that he hoped that members of the community would become involved. There is evidence that this has begun to transpire: small-scale individual and collective curriculum-related actions, increasing territorial acknowledgments, efforts to increase academic support for FNIM students, and projects, such as the collaborative work on an installation with Abenaki Artist Christine Sioui Wawanaloath. At Bishop’s, we are in a different place than we were in June 2015; however efforts need to be sustained and increased. We look forward to being part of this process and are grateful to have been able to further the existing dialogue, with the financial support of the Gordon Educational Leadership Fund, the Bishop’s Speakers Fund, and with the wise counsel of our guest speakers.

Dr. Robert A. Gordon, Officer of the Order of Canada, Bishop’s University Alumnus (former Chair of the Board of Governors)

Humber President Emeritus and Bishop’s Alumnus Dr. Robert (Squee) Gordon is renowned for his contributions to Educational leadership. He has recently endowed the Gordon Educational Leadership Fund to support a culture of educational leadership for members of our community committed to building positive institutional change.

The Importance of Educational Leadership in Higher Education

Bishop’s Alumna Dr. Robert (Squee) GordonIn the immediate years following graduation, it seemed axiomatic that the overarching value of the Bishop’s experience had been to provide an environment whereby its students could be appropriately moulded to be adequately prepared to handle the varied issues they would face during their lives’ journey.  This fortuitous circumstance was facilitated by the unique advantage of spending several years on the idyllic campus of a small, residential undergraduate institution nestled serenely in the rolling hills of the Eastern Townships. It was all too easy to believe that during those largely carefree years at Bishop’s – time spent sampling a plethora of (new) interests, broadening academic/intellectual pursuits, testing and then inculcating appropriate values and a personal code of acceptable behaviour – we were able to evolve, as if by osmosis, into sensible, personable adults equipped to take on rewarding and meaningful roles in our democratic society. And of course, we could all take personal credit for so seamlessly transforming ourselves from insecure adolescents into mature adults.

Over time, however, it began to dawn how shallow was that superficial overlay.  On reflection, the fundamental essence of BU, in fact, was to be found in the on-going, constantly deepening interactions between the students and the faculty.  Regardless of the celebrated, high profile extracurricular distractions – the Gaiters, the Lion, the Clubs, etc. – that are frequently featured prominently in the Bishop’s (alumni) lexicon, it became ever more clear that the true ethos of the University had always been entrusted to, and been embodied by, the faculty.  Since the inception of Bishop’s in 1843, the faculty have been the heart, the soul, and especially the conscience, of the University, and in so doing have both brought out the best in their students, and showcased the inter-personal fabric of what makes being at BU so special.  In short, it is the faculty who have guarded the institution’s traditions and legacy, maintained expert oversight of its standards and academic reputation, and provided the primary catalytic impetus which each year has successfully launched the graduating cohort into the “outside” world.

A recent personal experience reinforced this premise. In 2007, I was asked to play a role in the University’s governance during a period when many significant challenges threatened the very survival of the institution. What resonated for me was that notwithstanding the pressure and stress for everyone as we simultaneously came to grips with several seemingly insoluble and contentious issues, (some presenting potentially long term harm to the psychological well-being and professional prospects of the faculty and staff), meeting the educational and developmental requirements of the students always trumped any other pressing concerns. This caring and professional attitude by the faculty towards their students helped to stabilize the institution, and allowed appropriate mid-course corrections to take hold.  Today the University is still regarded across the country as near to the top of its class.

It thus follows that the most valuable resource of the University, the faculty, needs to be supported and nurtured.  Fortunately, the faculty themselves have established one important instrument, The Centre for Teaching and Learning, which speaks directly to the main raison d’être of the University, viz., improving teaching and facilitating learning.  Yet, the University suffers from a chronic over-all shortage of funding, and there is concern that this important asset might not receive the support it both deserves and requires.

It is important that the Centre continue to thrive and grow. The mission of the Centre needs to be fully understood and embraced, and the results of its endeavours disseminated broadly, so that it can become the beacon for sharing new pedagogical ideas and methodologies, and stimulate the interest of a widening pool of participants.  Moreover, fostering a steady stream of fresh ideas emanating from the Centre can assist Bishop’s in its quest to stand out amongst its peers as an institution on the cutting edge of providing high quality, innovative undergraduate education.  I wish those active in the Centre all the very best in their activities, and urge all who share the Centre’s vision to consider supporting it in any way deemed appropriate.


Dr. Robert (Squee) Gordon, Humber College Institute of Technology & Advanced Learning’s longest serving president (1982-2007) has been appointed as an officer of the Order of Canada in recognition of his dedication and commitment to higher education in Canada. Gordon’s leadership was instrumental in transforming the college system from its community roots to today’s degree-granting, preparing students for their career role.

Dr. Gordon has spent more than 45 years in public postsecondary education. He was president of Dawson College in Montreal before serving as Humber’s president for 25 years.

“While it is humbling to be personally honoured, real credit should go to the many committed and professional staff at Humber, Dawson and other colleges across Canada who make excellent educational things happen. Considering its major impact upon the socio-economic well-being of so many Canadians, the college movement has always been underappreciated in Canada, and this award goes some distance in redressing that misconception,” said Gordon.

Among his many accolades and achievements, Dr. Gordon received the Commemorative Medal for the Golden and Diamond Jubilees of Queen Elizabeth II and the Order of Ontario.

He has taught at many colleges and universities, has consulted and been a policy advisor nationally and internationally on postsecondary education, is widely published, and held a variety of board and other appointments during his career.

“We first and foremost congratulate Dr. Gordon on his well-deserved recognition and for his contributions to Humber and the overall college system in Canada,” said Chris Whitaker, Humber’s current president. “Squee led Humber through its formative years, always putting students’ interests first. His vision broadened access to education, added innovative programs and inspired all employees. Further, his focus on teaching and learning led to a model for Humber that enables our students to be ready to work when they graduate.”

Colour-Coded Grading: How to Make Marking more Transparent – Dr. Elizabeth Wells, Mount Allison University

Dr. Wells recently gave a talk to faculty at Bishop’s University on assessment and evaluation strategies, hosted by the BU Teaching and Learning Centre (TLC). Below is one of the many ideas she presented during her workshop.

Dr. Jessica Riddell,
Chair, TLC

If there is one thing we mostly agree on in the academy, is that we hate marking. In the hallways, in department meetings, we complain about this necessary and important task that always seems to leave faculty feeling less than enthusiastic. Why? Partly it is that marking is hard; we have to evaluate the work of others through a number of different lenses, trying to balance between fairness and encouragement. And, our students take their marks very seriously. A self-identified “A” student will feel deflated if they get a “B+”, even though we as instructors might feel that this is a perfectly respectable grade. There are ways that we can mark more effectively and more transparently, while still giving the students the support they need, as well as the honesty they deserve.

One method for assessment is “colour-coded” marking. In this system, the instructor gets away from the “bleeding on the page” that many associate with the colour red, and uses a multi-colour system that identifies different aspects of a paper that require comment.

Blue is used for everyday, quotidian elements like spelling, grammar, typos, etc.

Red is reserved for passionate “ideas” and is used to make comments, good or bad, about the ideas in the paper.

Finally, green is for structure, looking at the way a paper has been put together.

Passing over a paper three times might seem like a lot, but getting the “blue” out of the way, and not being further distracted by prose edits, really allows the instructor to focus on the important part of any essay, the “red” ideas. One aspect of my own marking that I realized was missing was commentary on essay structure. I spent so much time on the prose and the ideas, that I often neglected to address how the argument was made in a paper, how it fit together. Going over the paper three times forced me to consider all aspects of the work, not just the most obvious ones.

For the student, colour-coded grading is much more transparent and informative than a sea of red. It identifies the strengths and weaknesses of the paper, and it convinces the student that the teacher has really read and addressed the material, not just put in comments here and there as it occurs to them. They can then see where they need to put most of their attention in the next essay. Does this method of marking take more time?  Marginally, since you go over the paper a number of times. But I have found that it is a much more meaningful experience, and with each pass over the paper, the marking gets easier because one is looking for one aspect each time – not being distracted by all aspects at once. Although this method will not take all the anxiety and stress out of marking, it makes the instructor – and ultimately – the student, feel a little better about the whole process.

Elizabeth A. Wells, Ph.D., IFNTF
Dean of Arts, Mount Allison University
Pickard-Bell Chair in Music
Founding Co-President, International Federation of National Teaching Fellows
3M National Teaching Fellow

Change Institute



The Emails

In March of 2016, I sent the first of many emails to Professors Terry Eyland and Heather McKeen-Edwards, and students Kelsy Boucher and Sarah Legge. In two short months, the five of us would travel to McMaster University, where Sarah would attend the Summer Institute on Students as Partners in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education, and the rest of us would participate in the Change Institute. Briefly, the Change Institute was a three-day conference during which teams from around the world workshopped projects on students as partners in teaching and learning. As you can imagine, there was a variety of different projects. A team from Lingnan University in Hong Kong introduced a ‘student consultant’ initiative that provides faculty with pedagogical feedback, simultaneously negotiating the political climate surrounding student leadership in China. A team from Western University developed a course in which students and faculty work together to create the curriculum. Lastly, our team refined the Peer Academic Mentorship Program. The program offers a solution to the lack of academic advising at Bishop’s: student mentors are hired and trained to guide students through academic programs and processes. Stay tuned for my blog post about it – I use an awesome metaphor to explain! And while you’re at it, look for Sarah’s thrilling account of the Summer Institute!

Of course, before we had the experiences that inspired us to write those blog posts, we had to hammer out our travel plans. We did this in an email thread that spanned at least 30 emails, where nobody responded to the most recent message. It was my first insight as to what working with these people would be like. Kelsy and Sarah were always gung-ho, whereas Heather and especially Terry were more…particular, foreshadowing every interaction I would ever have with a professor in the future.

Eventually, however, we booked our Airbnb and – after several last minute changes of plan – decided that Terry and I would drive from Lennoxville and meet the rest of the team in Hamilton (they were already in the GTA). Now it’s an eight-hour drive from Lennoxville to Hamilton – longer if you hit Toronto rush hour, and longer still if you’ve only met your carpool buddy over email, and are therefore anticipating a lot of small talk and awkward silences. I brainstormed about ten different conversation topics, and blew through them all in half an hour.


Meet and Greet

Luckily, Terry is a socially-competent fellow and kept the conversation afloat. He told me about his work in environmental economics, and how he was steering it in the direction of his work as a top level snowboard instructor and heli-ski guide. At this point, it dawned on me that this was the professor who my friends referred to as Cool Terry. It was a classic Bishop’s moment – of course I already knew about him; it’s virtually impossible to not know about someone at Bishop’s.

It was classic in another sense – here was a professor tying his favourite things together, allowing his passion to inform his work and scholarship. It was inspiring; I assume especially so for those in the ski and snowboard club – which, of course, Terry was a part of during his time as a student at BU!

The next seven hours flew by, as we made jokes about the number of provincial signs advertising laser tag venues in the GTA (upwards of ten) and discussed ditching the social portion of the conference to visit Niagara Falls with our team (spoiler alert: we did). We also made dinner plans with the rest of our team, using (at Terry’s insistence) “TripAdvisor, even when you aren’t really a tourist!”

On TripAdvisor’s advice, we all went out to an Indian place. It was Kelsy’s first time trying Indian food (“In Pembroke we just eat different kinds of meat and potatoes!”), which kept us going conversation-wise for most of the meal.



The following morning, we got off to a late start – too late for a Timmies breakfast run – so we arrived at the conference with food on the brain. As this was Kelsy and I’s first conference, we were pleasantly surprised to see all the different snack and lunch breaks on the schedule.

The schedule itself was even more fascinating, if you can believe it. It outlined a series of workshops to help teams develop their projects. Our team, for example, found the workshops on risk assessment and Gantt charting particularly helpful because they identified tangible next steps for the Peer Academic Mentorship Program.

Our favourite workshop, however, was the very first one. We were asked to visually depict our project on chart paper, and at Heather’s suggestion we drew a board-game style image. Like a simplified version of the Game of Life, there are two paths that students could take. The first represented the status quo at Bishop’s, wherein students receive all academic advice from their departmental chairs. Terry had the genius idea to use actual chairs to symbolize the department chairs, so we added an assortment of armchairs as well as a single three-legged stool to the bottom of our picture.

If we want to expand this into a metaphor, we could say that chairs, like department chairs, have a distinct role, and serve a distinct purpose. If you need to sit, you find a chair. Similarly, if you need to know about your program, graduation requirements etc., you go to your chair. But if you need to sleep, you don’t sit in a chair. And again, if you need to find an academic club, choose an elective, or determine if you are registered in the right number of credits to receive a scholarship, perhaps you don’t go the chair.

Here we see the relevance of the second path: the second path represented the Peer Academic Mentorship Program. Brightly coloured blocks indicated the different things that mentors could help students with: academic clubs and university social life, university policies, and general academic and academic specific issues. The last block had a ladder (à la Snakes and Ladders) that lead to the chairs, indicating that the mentors would work with and refer students to department chairs. It served as an acknowledgment that our program did not aim to usurp them – to steal their thrones, as it were. Rather, we would work together towards student comprehension of the academic system. Terry and Heather, department chairs themselves, offered insight into the nature of this collaboration, such as when mentors should refer students to chairs or the inverse: why chairs might refer students to mentors. We also drew in other partnerships we hoped to forge, with the likes of the records office (represented by a large record), student services (a broken heart with a Band-Aid) and the ombudsperson (a superhero).

Change Institute poster

This poster now hangs in my office, a reminder of the program’s guiding vision. In addition, it reminds me of what it took to build the program, and what it will take to sustain it.

The Peer Academic Mentorship Program was built on a series of partnerships between students and professors, and this was made very clear to me at the Change Institute. Ours was the only team in which students worked in a truly horizontal relationship with professors. I’m not one for vertical relationships, or hierarchies. I understand that the professor-student relationship may present as one, but we must keep in mind that the attitude of the student towards the professor is not and should not be one of submission. Professors do not and should not belittle students; they help them to grow. And students, rising to this challenge, challenge professors to become better teachers. In this relationship, professors and students have value, or ‘bring something to the table’. It is a partnership.

The Peer Academic Mentorship Program embodies this partnership in so many different ways. The program is centred on students helping students, demonstrating a horizontal approach to guidance. It is students helping students to bridge any gaps caused by perceived hierarchies so they can get the academic support they need. And lastly, it is students and professors working together in this endeavour. It is an ongoing endeavour, and will be as long as there are students in need of help. We must, therefore, maintain or even improve the student/professor partnerships on which it was built.



I’ll leave you with one last anecdote before I bid you a fond farewell. After we finished the first workshop, the facilitators encouraged us to document our artwork on social media with the hashtag studentpartnerships. Like clockwork, people from around the room grabbed their phones and tablets to tweet and instagram (perhaps even linkedin?). Our team promptly adopted studentpartnerships as our name and preferred sign off. So without further ado,


The Alchemy of Teaching and Learning: Brewing as a Metaphor for Transformative Learning

Dr. Jessica Riddell (English) & Dr. Dale Wood (Chemistry) 

Beer is a striking metaphor for transformative learning

The metaphor is deceptively simple: professors are metaphorical brew masters. Both gather together a set of ingredients and combine them with (hopefully) profound and transformative results. The four ingredients in beer (water, malted grain, hops, and yeast) share corresponding (metaphorical) ingredients that professors have at their disposal to create conditions for transformative learning – for students and for themselves.

In the following metaphor, we suggest that:

  1. water is the learning environment
  2. malted grains represent the students
  3. hops represent a liberal education
  4. yeast is a metaphor for knowledge

Bishop’s University combines all these ingredients, often with intoxicating results.

The Alchemy of Brewing and Teaching

First, let’s situate the role of the brew-master-as-professor within a historical context of beer making.

Beer and Brewing have existed for thousands of years, and the drive to perfect the perfect beer is one of the earliest scientific pursuits. Long before the alchemical search for the Philosopher’s Stone – which reputedly turns base metals into gold – brewers had already turned water, grain, and herbs into liquid gold.
Brewers were the first alchemists, constantly experimenting to improve their product but also attributing what they could not explain to divine intervention. Brewing was almost exclusively under the jurisdiction of priests and priestesses, and the process of converting herbs and grains into a drink that created euphoria (and often hallucinations!) was a mystical and miraculous transformation that could only – the theory went – be a gift from the heavens. Brewing was considered a divine art as much as it was a science of crafting beer.

Professors, like brew masters, are craftsmen who gather together raw materials and create conditions that encourage transformative processes, with sometimes ineffable results. We have all witnessed our students combine preparation, hard work, and learning with a touch of magic and a flash of insight in order to make sense of the world around them in a new way. That joy of discovery is often what drives us as teachers and as learners.
Now, in an ideal world, the brewer or the professor could replicate the same combination of ingredients and conditions to create a great batch of beer or an awesome learning experience every single time.

If only it was that easy! This is where the alchemy comes in, and the humble awareness that we are only conduits of a process that we cannot always control … but from which we can always learn.

Bishop's Brewery - Chemistry Department

Get Thee to a Brewery: The Ingredients of Transformative Learning

Brewing water is the learning environment

Water provides the medium in which the beer is produced, much like the learning space is the area in which teaching and learning occurs.
The water that brewers use is so much more than just H2O. Water is critical to beer’s production, but it is the mineral content of the water that has a critical role to play in the character of the beer.  If you want to produce a dark, rich ale, use hard water rich in Calcium and Sulfate. A clear, crisp pilsner requires soft water containing Sodium, Potassium, and Chloride. The minerals present in the water also provide yeast with essential nutrients for healthy growth.

Like water, the learning environment has a critical effect on learning outcomes. We try to create ideal learning conditions in the classroom and beyond, through lectures, experiential learning, flipping the classroom, scaffolding assignments and a diverse range of activities to help students develop core competencies. Research suggests that even the layout and architecture of the learning environment changes the dynamics of learning.

Students are malted grains

Grain (barley, wheat, rye, oats, etc.) is the primary ingredient in beer. All beer is made from it. However, before grain makes its way to the brew house, it must be malted. The first step in malting is the process of germination, by which the grain kernel (a seed) is activated by steeping it in water to initiate growth of a new plant (in our metaphor, immersing students in the learning environment allows the grain/student to open up to the chemical changes of brewing/learning). Hydration of the grain generates enzymes that break down the outer husk of the grain, making it more receptive to the chemical processes it will undergo. Finally, the grain is exposed to heat in a process called kilning. This produces even more chemical reactions that release colour and distinct flavour compounds in the grain that are prized by the brewer.

If we understand this process as a metaphor for learning, a student is immersed in the learning environment (i.e. placing the grain in water to germinate) and then given various challenges – and even pressure (the kilning process) – to bring out the best in that particular student. Each grain, like each student, responds differently to different levels of heat (and pressure), but ideally the brewer/professor can create conditions that encourage the grain to “activate” and change in such a way as to bring out the finest flavours – or greatest capacity – of that particular grain.
Just as malted grains provide the fundamental building blocks of the brewing process, students are the driving force for teaching and learning. Grains provide the essential energy, in the form of sugars, for yeast (knowledge) to work its magic: concomitantly, students often they provide us with the energy to continue striving for pedagogical excellence to help them reach their fullest potential while at Bishop’s.

Hops represents a Liberal Education

Although beer has been brewed for at least 10,000 years, hops is a fairly recent addition as an ingredient. It has always been common practice in brewing to add flavour and aroma additives – such as local herbs or flowers – but today beer without hops is a rarity.

Although the antiseptic and preservative qualities of hops were known by the latter part of the 11th century A.D., its use in brewing is believed to have begun quite a bit later, likely in the 13th century. By the early part of the 16th century hops were a standard ingredient in beer, particularly on the continent. Germany even made a law in 1516 that hops had to be an ingredient in beer (the law was called Reinheitsgebot, the German Purity Law).

Why are hops so important? Because – in addition to the myriad of flavours it infuses into the beer – hops improves the shelf life of beer from weeks, to months or even years under the right conditions. Coinciding with the advent of exploration and colonization in the late middle ages, the introduction of hops ensured that adventurers and conquerors could take beer with them for long journeys across oceans to new worlds.

How do hops connect with a liberal education? Just like beer doesn’t need hops, a university can operate without a liberal education approach. However, some research suggests that the quality of the education and the mechanism for its delivery is much improved if it does, and the beer (i.e. transformative knowledge) lasts longer and can be better preserved.

Last but not least: Yeast

If water is the learning environment, malt is the student, and hops is a liberal education, then Yeast is knowledge itself.

Brewer’s Yeast (Saccharomyces Cerevisiae) is a single-celled microorganism that lies dormant until the brewer pitches it into his wort.

The wort is the sugary, nutrient packed, hoppy solution prepared from water, malt, and hops. In this metaphor, the wort represents the entire learning environment (receptive, enthusiastic students in a liberal education university like Bishop’s!). The only thing missing is yeast – the knowledge – to activate the entire process and create magic.

When you add yeast, the brewmaster might cross their fingers and even utter a few prayers since the brewer can never be exactly sure what effect the yeast will have. Since yeast is a living organism, it can be very fickle. If the nutrients aren’t just right, or the temperature in the fermenter varies too much, or any one of the multiple conditions aren’t – or couldn’t! – be accounted for, you are not going to get the desired result.

In some cases something wonderful happens and you produce a masterpiece of liquid gold. However, sometimes the batch fails and you have to start over. The batch can also become contaminated by an outside agent such as bacteria or wild yeast.

The brewer wages a constant war against contamination and a multitude of other factors in their pursuit of the best product – as does the professor.

We are constantly faced by challenges to learning – including all the outside stresses on our students (finances, mental health, personal struggles, bullying, substance abuse, you name it!). Sometimes there are students we can’t seem to activate despite our best efforts to “germinate” them. There are some variables that are outside our control, which can be somewhat daunting – but if you take an alchemy approach and understand that you are merely the conduit through which transformative power is possible, then these challenges can be less trying and more exciting.

As yeast consumes what the brewer gives it, it grows and multiplies, just as knowledge begets more knowledge. The yeast recovered from one batch can be reused to ferment another. Knowledge also comes alive when it is provided with the ideal conditions of the wort (active and engaged students, a liberal education approach, and a hospitable learning environment).

Another interesting thing about yeast is that it has to be put under stress to produce a layered and complex beer. When we exert (safely controlled) pressure on our students – for example, by challenging them with greater responsibilities and autonomy in their own learning process – it can yield greater results as they rise to meet these challenges. Not doing so results in a bored little yeast cell, full and growing, but never reaching its greatest capacity. The brewer really needs to be careful here though; too much stress can kill the yeast. [Author’s note: every article we’ve read suggests killing students is bad for retention.]

The TLC Brew Crew

Knowledge production and knowledge dissemination – in the realms of brewing and higher education – requires a healthy balance of humility, risk taking, and a lot of hard work. In brewing, this means trying new combinations of ingredients, switching to a different mineral profile in the water, placing your yeast under unexplored stresses, or any number of other deviations from the traditional recipes of the past. The result may be a flop or it may result in something delightful. It’s the same in teaching. Every professor, like every brewer, has their “go-to” recipes. Sometimes deviating from that recipe is a big mistake, but sometimes trying something different results in a new way of looking at things. That’s why participating in the Teaching and Learning Centre (TLC) at Bishop’s can be so rewarding: each professor can explore new ideas – in pedagogical support, educational leadership, or research and publication on scholarly teaching – with a group of faculty who have many different recipes to share!

The very process of writing this article – as a collaborative endeavour between an English literature professor and a Chemistry professor – has been its own transformative learning process. We came to this collaboration with very different areas of mastery (metaphors and matter, respectively), and learned a great deal about transformative learning in the process. We hope you find the final product smooth and refreshing.

Raise a toast to transformative learning at Bishop’s University!